Animals A-Go-Go

Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica

Apr 24, 2001
Outside Magazine

Scarlet macaws are just what you dream of in a tropical bird: flashy, big, loud—and easy to spot from the comfort of a palm-shaded beachside hammock. Of the three known existing scarlet macaw population centers in Central America, the best place to see the three-foot-long, red, blue, orange, and yellow parrot is in and around Corcovado National Park, an area of unequaled biological bounty on Costa Rica's south Pacific coast about 200 miles from the capital San José. Corcovado encompasses a wide range of habitats—from dripping, all-but-impenetrable cloudforests to croc-friendly swampland to broad Pacific beaches where jaguars sometimes prowl at night. More than 100 species of mammals, 123 species of butterflies, 367 species of birds, 117 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 40 species of freshwater fish—at last count—make Corcovado their home. But few species are as full of beans and as much fun to watch as the scarlet macaw. You'll find them easily enough: feeding in almond trees within park boundaries, ripping into ripe figs along the shore around the low-key tourist lodges on the park's periphery, or flying in pairs or small flocks—at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. And when you don't see them, you'll surely hear them. Macaws keep up a nearly constant stream of raucous, cartoonish cries—even in flight. Their boisterousness and uncamouflaged beauty have made them easy prey for hunters in the pet trade. That, and their ever-shrinking habitat, has landed them on the endangered-species list.

WHAT ELSE YOU'LL SEE: Howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-lipped peccaries, American crocodiles, caimans, poison dart frogs.

MIGHT SEE: Baird's tapir, pumas, hammerhead sharks.

Filed To: Nature, Costa Rica